This story is a part of our weeklong series on reference librarians at the National Library of Medicine. Tomorrow we’ll tell you about some of the more unusual requests that NLM reference librarians have received.
Wanda Whitney, PhD, was desperate. “My baby was having seizures and I didn’t know why. I went online and read forums and blogs. One even read, ‘Your baby is going to die,’” recalls Whitney. “Finally while trying to find authoritative information, I stumbled on PubMed.”
Her stumbling may not only have saved her son, it changed her career.
“Because of the articles I read on PubMed, I was able to suggest a particular medicine that helped stop the seizures,” she explained.
After Whitney’s son’s health stabilized, she returned to school where she was earning a master’s degree in library and information science. After her experience with her son’s health, Whitney wanted to become a medical librarian and thought that working at the National Library of Medicine would be a dream come true.
There was just one obstacle. Whitney didn’t have any science or medical background, and her advisor wanted her to pursue working in an academic library. Undeterred, she picked up every project and internship she could find in medicine and consumer health.
Her tenacity paid off when Whitney was hired at NLM, first as a contractor and then as a federal employee.
Today, she coordinates customer service at NLM and gives presentations on how to use NLM databases. The former Spanish teacher also reviews topics for MedlinePlus en español and serves on an NIH-wide committee for language access.
“This is an exciting time to be a reference librarian. The customer is king, and we’re working to provide services that reflect that,” she says. “We’re using digital and social media as ways to keep in touch. NLM is always cutting-edge in terms of technology.”
Requests for information come in through email, messages on Facebook, visitors to the Library, or phone calls.
Many requests revolve around health topics in the news, statistics, and how to get journals indexed in PubMed. They might come from a student asking about the world’s longest living kidney transplant recipient or a reporter fact-checking information. And then there are the moms looking for information to help their children.
“People are desperate for information. I can relate to that,” she says. As for her son who suffered from seizures, he’s now 17 and thriving. “I guess you could call it a happy ending for my son and me.”